BY EMMETT SNEAD
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
MY WIFE, ELLEN, and I first met Stavroula Conrad, Heidi Lewis and DeLaura Padovan at the Cosner Park community center sometime during the late ’90s. We were giving a talk about some aspect of farming to a group of farmers.
Afterward we were approached by these three articulate young ladies with very engaging smiles. The best part about giving pep talks about farming is the eclectic collection of people you meet.
They introduced themselves and said they wanted to start a CSA in the Fredericksburg area. The first thought that went through my mind was that they must be in disguise, because they didn’t look like they were representing the Confederate States of America.
I had never heard of community supported agriculture, but Stavroula explained it to us enthusiastically in great detail. It is always a gift to learn.
I asked her what her long-term goal was concerning the CSA business. She said, “There would be CSA growers dotting the local land to feed the local people.”
What an extraordinary concept, I thought.
I explained to her that at that time I was going to four different farmers markets—seven days a week—selling to chain stores and restaurant groups, running a daily roadside stand and selling pick-your-own pumpkins and cut-your-own Christmas trees.
However, my long-term goal was to one day (it occurred in 2010 with the advent of my CSA) sell 99 percent of my fruit and vegetables at my farm location only. Stavroula said they needed someone to do eggs for their CSA.
I asked my daughter Jessica (she already had a few chickens) if she would be interested in selling eggs to the Fredericksburg CSA. She jumped at it.
The organizers of the Fredericksburg CSA first brought the CSA concept here in 1995 and their first harvest was in 1997. Most of the CSAs in this area got their start either directly or indirectly from the Fredericksburg CSA. The Fredericksburg area is truly blessed, with more CSAs and farmers markets than many other areas.
Stavroula Conrad, Heidi Lewis and Delaura Padovan, the King George market manager, were and still are ahead of their time. They had a dream that has become reality and continues to grow bigger all the time.
When I was growing up, most everyone I knew had a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt who had a farm they could visit during the summer. Now, the locavore movement, agritainment, sustainable farming, CSAs and the desire to protect and promote local green space have all come together to connect with modern families that no longer have farming kin, but want to know both where their food comes from and the farm family that grows it.
Suddenly, it seems to me, families have discovered new ways to visit a farm, have fun planning a meal around the food that came from that farm, save money and save the earth all in one whack-a-moley. It also fits perfectly with with a farmer’s desire to share an understanding of what he does. Everyone wins.
Families are finding out why food grown on a family farm tastes better than that purchased from a grocery store. Varieties of fruits and vegetables grown on family farms are selected for their superior taste and flavor over varieties purchased from chain stores that were selected for their superior shipping and storage qualities.
Fruits and vegetables picked at peak ripeness have more vitamins and minerals in them, which make them not only more tasty but also a healthier choice.
There are as many kinds of CSAs to choose from as there are farmers who do them.
You should check out the local ones online first. Narrow them down to the ones that appeal to your personal taste and needs. Then go out and visit those farms to make a final decision.
Another major thing to consider is risk assessment. Most CSAs do not really guarantee X amount of product. This is because crop yields are subject to the whims of nature, insects and disease. Some CSAs have greatly minimized their risks. They have spread those risks by joining forces with other farmers in the area to offer a broader variety of fruits and vegetables. Look for farms that are able to irrigate their crops.
Also, farms that pursue sustainable farming through best management practices (BMPs) and crop rotation cut down on insect and disease problems naturally. Farmers who have learned to minimize risk tend to have more bountiful crops, which in turn will give CSA members a larger share.
On price, in order to compare asparagus to asparagus, check out how many items were given out per week in past years. The value of the kinds of items is important, too. For instance, fresh fruit is generally more valuable than fresh vegetables. The track record of the CSA or the reputation of the farmer should be investigated. A lot of this can be done by word of mouth and by researching online.
Next month, we’ll continue in House & Home with how easily the CSA concept has blended with my existing farm business.
Emmett Snead operates Snead’s Farm along Tidewater Trail in Caroline County.